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Committee to vote on Egypt's new constitution next week

With the 3 December deadline approaching, articles related to the army and to the electoral system are yet to be decided

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 19 Nov 2013
Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy
Constituent Assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy (Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 2043

The fifty-member committee entrusted with writing Egypt's new constitution is expected to finish its task at the end of next week.

In a press conference held on Tuesday, Mohamed Salmawy, the committee's media spokesperson, indicated that beginning on Saturday, the committee will start preparations for putting the draft constitution to a final vote among the committee members.

This comes after the committee has endorsed most of the draft constitution, except for the articles regulating the performance of the armed forces, and the charter's preamble.

"We are expected to endorse these on Wednesday and Thursday," said Salmawy, adding that "on Saturday 23 November, a closed-door plenary meeting will be held to allow reserve members to review the draft's articles and give their opinions on them."

"At the same meeting, we will review 17 articles which have not gained consensus during the first reading of the draft over the past few weeks," indicated Salmawy, adding that "we will make sure that these articles gain no less than 75 percent approval in order to be finally endorsed, before a final vote is held."

According to Salmawy, although the committee's deadline is not until 3 December, it is expected to finish its task before then.

"I expect that at the end of next week we will have a final vote and this will be televised live, in order to allow all Egyptians to follow the discussion of their new constitution minute by minute and article by article," he said.

In the words of the spokesman, the new constitution will help Egypt to secure "a big democratic leap forward."

"This is not a constitution tailored to serve the interests of a certain group or the members of a certain profession, but a document for all Egyptians, helping to move the country forward on the road of democracy and freedoms."

Reviewing the committee's meeting on Tuesday, Salmawy indicated that its members adopted the historical decision to eliminate the 50 percent quota of seats that has been reserved for representatives of farmers and workers in parliament since 1964.

"At that time," argued Salmawy, there were no political parties in Egypt so it was necessary to guarantee that these two marginalised sectors be fairly represented in parliament."

But now, said Salmawy, Egypt has moved to a multi-party system.

"The only ban will be imposed on the formation of political parties based on religious foundations or with religious backgrounds," said Salmawy, indicating that "as a result, workers and farmers are allowed to set up their own political parties as is the case in countries like England, Italy, Tunisia and Israel."

"Do not also forget that workers in certain countries like Brazil and Poland were able to reach top positions, primarily former president Lula da Silva in Brazil," argued Salmawy.

Salmawy indicated that Mamdouh Hamada, the committee representative of farmers and Ahmed Khairy, a representative of workers, had indicated that after referring to their institutions, they welcomed the elimination of the 50 percent quota.

"In this way," explained Salmawy, "we gained consensus on the elimination of this historical quota."

Salmawy, however, indicated that "the committee, in its evening meeting on Tuesday, will discuss a new electoral system aimed to help marginalised sectors attain good representation in parliament."

"We see that until farmers and workers become able to set up their own political parties, they need a certain quota to keep a significant representation in parliament," said Salmawy.

Salmawy explained that in debating the new electoral system, the committee will make sure that "there is a kind of positive discrimination for marginalised sectors such as farmers, workers, women, Copts, youth and the disabled."

"This will be achieved whether we adopted the individual candidacy system or the party list system or a mix of both," said Salmawy.

Salmawy sharply criticised 2012's constitution which was drafted by Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, arguing that it "refrained from confronting the thorny issue of the 50 percent quota for farmers and workers."

"It just said that this quota will stay for one legislative term and developed a loose definition that could have allowed representatives of several professions – such as journalists and even movie actors and businessmen – to run as workers and farmers," argued Salmawy.

In another direction, Salmawy ruled out the possibility of holding a second vote on whether an upper house be established or not.

"We have scrapped the idea of establishing a second house," said Salmawy.

Salmawy also strongly rejected reports that an article giving a definition of Islamic sharia will be maintained.

"Whether it is Article 219 or not, by no means we will have such an article," said Salmawy, indicating that "all agreed that the definition put by the Supreme Constitutional Court for Islamic sharia principles will be adopted and become binding for all."

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